One of the biggest advantages enjoyed by the current AKP government is the fact that it its nine years in power have been characterised by a level of political and economic stability that is remarkable by Turkish standards. Voters value the AKP not just for what it has and hasn’t done, but also for the fact that it has carved out the political freedom (in terms of its solid parliamentary majority) to accomplish what it sets out to accomplish.
This makes life exceptionally difficult for the opposition parties, none of which can plausibly claim to be within striking distance of a parliamentary majority of the sort that the AKP can now almost take for granted. Understandably, the opposition has tried to sweep this inconvenient fact under the carpet. But it’s a challenge of political presentation that they need to stop ducking.
The electorate isn’t stupid. It knows that in a poll like today’s a whole range of different factors need to be balanced. Chief among them may well be the ideological and policy differences between the parties, but their relative prospects as potential governments are of huge significance too.
Like any halfway competent incumbent, the AKP enjoys the advantage of being able to point to its record in government as evidence of its ability to do the job for which it’s applying to the electorate. The opposition parties enjoy nothing similar. The largest of them, the CHP, has only recently recovered to a point at which it can claim to be a just-about normally functioning party. The idea that it is an alternative government in waiting remains laughable.
And yet at some stage the CHP and the other opposition parties will have to bridge this gap with the voters. The AKP is pretty much a certainty to win today’s election, but one has to assume that the situation might not be as clearcut next time around. In which case questions of stability might take on an unusually important role in terms of deciding the extent of any swing away from the current government.
The AKP repeatedly punches above its natural electoral weight, in large measure precisely because it offers the kind of stability that Turkish democracy has failed to deliver in the recent past. Given a potentially credible and stable alternative, it’s my view that a significant body of voters would peel away from the AKP. It therefore has to be part of the planning of the opposition parties—and of the CHP in particular—to find a way of conveying that sense of credible stability. This is something that they haven’t even remotely begun to do.
Consider the CHP. What has underpinned its pitch to the electorate in today’s election? The prospect of a single-party CHP administration? Clearly not. That simply isn’t on the cards and never has been. But the CHP has done nothing to illustrate what it thinks might be on the cards. This isn’t a matter of spelling out exactly what it hopes the post-election landscape might look like, or what the precise terms of any hypothetical coalition negotiations between the CHP and smaller opposition groupings would be. The party simply needs to do more to show that it understands the significance of political stability to the electorate.
For example, while in opposition it needs to demonstrate the kind of instincts for mature cross-party co-operation that in government it would rely on day in and day out if it wanted to make any coalition arrangement last. Maturity doesn’t come naturally to Turkey’s politicians, but in this instance it overlaps with basic political self-interest. If the CHP cannot yet aspire to governing alone, then it needs to show that it is thinking about the ways in which it could govern in collaboration with others.